The Revolutionary War
25 April 1781
In the late afternoon and evening of 24 April 1781, Virginia militia regiments of Brigadier General Peter Muhlenberg's Corps of about 1,000 men marched into Petersburg in order to counter an expected attack by the invading 2,500 man British army of Major General William Phillips the following day. That evening, Major General Frederick von Steuben, the overall American commander in Virginia, ordered Muhlenberg's Corps and other gathering militia to the north side of the Appomattox River in the community of Pocahontas and onto the heights overlooking the river (now Colonial Heights) for the night. On the morning of the 25th, von Steuben and MuhIenberg began deploying their force to defensive positions on the eastern edges of Blandford and Petersburg. Concurrently, von Steuben left Colonel Robert Goode's militia regiment of Chesterfield County and Captain Robert Bolling's company of Cavalry in Pocahontas to secure the militia's rear and provide covering fire for operations on the south of the river.
The initial British attack began near 1:00 o'clock. Around 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon, following intense fighting against overwhelming odds, von Steuben ordered a general withdrawal of the militia from Petersburg into Chesterfield County. The Americans had held their principal defensive position along what is now Madison Street against several assaults by Phillips' overwhelming British regulars. However, with ammunition running low and British artillery battering the militia lines, von Steuben determined that his force had accomplished as much as they could to defend the town. With British forces in close pursuit, the militia fought a bitter hand-to-hand delaying action along this waterfront while individual units crossed the narrow Pocahontas Bridge to safety. The last units across took up the bridge planks to delay the enemy's following. Though it had withdrawn from Petersburg, the brave Virginia militia had impeded the British invasion and remained intact to fight another day.